Affairs often cause divorce. I repeatedly see couples struggling with the tragic impact of infidelity.
Most couples want desperately to save their marriages, and most adulterers feel remorseful for how they behaved. An affair is not necessarily a deal breaker, but its aftermath is difficult to navigate toward the goal of repair.
Believe it or not, some affairs are not consummated in a physical sense. As a counselor, I frequently hear comments from the straying partner such as, “I didn’t have any physical contact with the other person.” In the straying partner’s mind, he or she did not have an affair.
What do you think?
Marriage educator Cathy Meyer has written an enlightening article, “What Is the Difference between an Emotional Affair and a Physical Affair?” She says that infidelity includes merely feeling it or thinking it, emotions which of course are fairly easy to take to the next level, considering our daily use of phones and email.
According to Meyer, cheating is classified as having “intimate correspondence with someone while on a cell phone, meeting someone over the Internet, and maintaining a close, personal relationship with someone other than your spouse.”
To the wronged spouse, an emotional affair is not all that different than a physical affair. True, there may not have been any actual physical contact—no touching, kissing, or sexual intercourse.
But what about all the time the partner has spent talking, texting, emailing, or having coffee with someone else?
As one becomes more acquainted with the other, the communication has a tendency to become more personal. They share daily activities, stresses and joys; before you know it, both parties are sharing each other’s lives and have developed a sizable emotional investment in the relationship.
This time spent is not on the spouse, but on the new person. This type of engagement is dangerous, and can be perceived as a threat to the emotional bond between the couple. Half of such relationships ultimately blossom into sexual affairs.
In the movie Fireproof, the husband has many outside interests, taking his attention away from his spouse. They call outside attractions “parasites.”
Now, while I'm not saying outside interests and hobbies are unhealthy, it's important to look at the reason time is being spent elsewhere. Examine the many hours taken away from the primary relationship. Why is one person straying? What is going on at home that is allowing an emotional affair to develop outside the marriage?
Perhaps a fantasy is being met online that cannot be had at home. Or maybe the home situation is volatile or just plain old boring, and the straying spouse is seeking escape. It could be that the straying person has an addiction to the excitement of being with someone new, or is seeking additional attention.
I don't think emotional affairs develop in a vacuum, and I would bet there is a root cause.
With an emotional affair in place, there is often less incentive to try to repair the underlying problems in the primary relationship. Don’t let this happen to you. Make time to sit down and have a serious discussion about the cause.
For things to improve, both people in the relationship must want to change and be honest with each other about their respective needs. The longer the situation progresses without addressing it, the deeper the couple will drift into instability.